Visit to Earthsong, NZ

Hi there!

We will be going to New Zealand in a couple of week, more specifically Auckland for a while.
We thought maybe we’ll take the chance to get into contact with the people from the Earthsong cohousing, and see if we can learn something from them directly.
We contacted them and… we’re in for a tour with one of the founding members :smile:
We’ll do our best to learn as much as possible, but please let us know if you have ideas of specific questions you would like to ask them!
Cheers :slight_smile:

Sarah and Chris

PS: one of the founders of Earthsong is the writer of the book “Cohousing for life”; there is a synopsis here and the whole book is in the Books and Manuals folder. And finally here is a link to their website.

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Oh waw! I’m so happy for you!

I don’t have any very specific questions, mostly because I trust that the interesting stuff will come out when they are telling their story.

I’d be grateful nevertheless if you could pass on a word of gratitude about the book. It’s the first book that I read about cohousing and I learned a lot from it. Some of the sections of our Governance document are also directly inspired by what’s in the book, so I really couldn’t thank them enough.

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That’s really great that you are going, looking forward to the post.

I would like to ask them if they think there are non-superficial differences between doing a co-housing in an urban vs. suburban vs. rural setting, and if so, to tell us about them. My work hypothesis is that an urban cohousing is a bit easier, because it piggybacks on the city’s infrastructure, and because there are more potential candidates to join. A rural cohousing risks becoming inward-looking (unless it is very large), and a suburban one risks being very car-dependent. But maybe I am wrong, or there are hacks around those problems.

Ok! duly noted! :slight_smile:

Hi everyone!

A couple of weeks ago, we headed out to west Auckland to visit this cohousing project and meet with Barbara (one of the cofounding members). Some aspects are quite different to what we are contemplating, mostly because of it being a more rural property (although on the edge of a major city), and partly because of the New Zealand context (government regulations, building materials, etc.).

Having said that, it was extremely interesting and informative. Here are some of the key points:

As we met in the visitor parking area, Barbara highlighted that when they started installing infrastructure 22 years ago, there were certain future changes that they couldn’t foresee, such as the need for electric vehicle (EV) charging. In terms of the Reef, one thing to consider is that in the future it is likely that many more residents will have EVs than now. And another is about incorporating flexibility into the infrastructure (although I have no idea what this actually means practically, and by definition unforeseen developments in the future imply the inability to see them coming :wink:

She said that coming up with an acceptable design for the million-dollar community space that everyone could consent to was actually easier than getting everyone on board with much smaller decisions, such as where to put the washing lines or whether to keep chickens or not.

In terms of decision-making in general, she said that although the methods they use (similar to those used by the Reef) could sometimes be very time-consuming and seem overly structured, they were definitely worth the effort in terms of the end result and the overall community dynamic.

With regard to building materials, they opted to spend more money on certain materials in order to be pioneers regarding sustainability, although she noted that 22 years later, some of the materials and building techniques that they used already seem very outdated.

Barbara talked about the concepts of “the physical promoting the social” and “intentional design”. This involved designing the layout of the social areas with the community in mind: loopy paths, positioning of balconies, everyone being able to be connected to the communal areas and so on. In that way, people (if they want to) can interact with other members of the community during day-to-day life. Possibly something that the community would have quite a range of views on, I expect.

Within the Earthsong community, there have been smaller groupings of residents who have pooled their resources to do other projects, sometimes with the benefit of the community in mind. For example, a small piece of land was for sale that was between the community and the road, and some members wanted to buy it in order to stop something like a petrol station being built there. Not everyone agreed or could afford to do so, but about a third of them went ahead, and are now thinking about opening a shop or community centre on it.

Some of the money that the community members put towards the ongoing expenses associated with the communal areas etc. each month is saved for times in the future when something might go wrong suddenly and need funds to fix it.

There is a ‘team community’, which overlaps with ‘team recruitment/onboarding’, and their job is to pay attention to the wellbeing of individual community members, such as elderly people who might need a bit more support or families with new children.

They built the housing without anyone knowing which house they would inhabit, then they toured the property together and used a rating system to decide on the value of each house, to determine the price, which lead to a discussion about who would go where. Not sure if this is appropriate to the Reef project, but it is worth noting that she mentioned that the more everyone individualises their personal living space, the more the overall price of construction goes up.

For those who want to (about 40 of them), there are two group meals a week, so eight a month. There are eight teams of five people (which don’t change) who once a month plan, buy, pay for and cook a meal for everyone else. They then have another seven meals to enjoy without having to worry about anything. It’s not a perfect system, but I think it’s a great idea to think about putting together something similar for those who are interested. She also said that it gets super competitive!

There is a covered seating area in the communal garden, which Barbara said was great value for money. It allowed community members to meet outside in all weather conditions, and was a wonderful impromptu meeting spot. There is also a communal giveaway spot, where people can give away books, clothes and so on. There is a room for yoga, meditation, workshops, etc., which they rent to members of Earthsong and the wider community, but only if the activity it is used for is in line with their values. There is a children’s play area next to the kitchen, for when parents are involved in the cooking, with a glass partition which allowed the parents to keep an eye on them. With regard to setting up the kitchen itself, they took advice from professionals to make sure it was equipped and arranged in the most efficient way. There was also a small bench in the kitchen so that the kids could participate in the cooking sometimes. There was also a teenagers space (which they comanaged), a guestroom for visitors and a chicken pen. There was a compost area, and Barbara made the point that it was important that it was easily accessible to everyone for it to work (or a number of different “gathering” points).

They use a coloured cards systems for communication during meetings and decision-making processes, which Barbara said was extremely efficient. I think there is something about this on Nextcloud.

@Alberto – In response to your questions above, Barbara agreed with all your hypotheses. She added that not only do rural cohousing projects risk becoming inward looking, they also risk fracturing after a certain size. Earthsong is semi-rural with 32 households, and she said she would have preferred it to be smaller in retrospect, as there was some fracturing into smaller groups that wasn’t always positive. She said that in her opinion, 22 households would have been ideal, as she thought that would encourage everyone to feel that they have to be involved. That being said, they didn’t use a system for ensuring that everyone did the same amount of hours with regard to “running” the community after it was set up, but she could see the benefit of doing so.

Finally she mentioned a co-housing in Dunedin (South Island of NZ), which is supposedly quite well thought of, and is a particularly good example of ‘passive housing’: http://highstreetcohousing.nz

That’s about it. Photos to follow…

:slight_smile:

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Hey @ChrisM and @Sarah, thanks so much for this. Fascinating!

I’m guessing the word we are looking for would be “reversibility”. How hard would it be to take down the fountain in the garden, should we decide we need the space for something else?

Yes, this I also see in my own co-living. No brainer. A big point of The Reef, in my view, is to create unplanned occasions for interaction with other reeflings.

This I like very much.

Mark says the exact same thing.

Second that! Although the numbers might be a bit smaller in our case… we’ll see.

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